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SDG #5: An Appraisal of Nigeria's SDG Gender Equality Project

HomePublicationsSDGs MonitorSDG #5: An Appraisal of Nigeria's SDG Gender Equality Project
HomePublicationsSDGs MonitorSDG #5: An Appraisal of Nigeria's SDG Gender Equality Project
Gender equality and women's economic empowerment are at the centre of the United Nations' 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Although gender equality has been included amongst the top targets that countries must meet in order to reach the ultimate SDG, the issue has been on the front burner of international development agendas for decades.



The SDG document noted that increasing women's participation in the labour force and improving their income-earning opportunities as well as eliminating other forms of gender barriers would engender speedy economic growth and poverty reduction across the globe.

A recent World Bank Group report says that "income, employment, and assets empower women – and that benefits society as a whole". Thus the ambitious scope of the Sustainable Development Goals represents a new window of opportunity to tackle structural constraints that have held women back, forcing them to lag behind men in most measures of economic opportunities and preventing them from making a meaningful contribution to socio-economic and political development around the world.

As is to be expected, Nigeria remains a focus of global policy leaders and stakeholders in the SDGs' Gender Equality project. Being one of the many countries where tradition, custom, sexual stereotyping of social roles and cultural prejudice militate against the enjoyment of rights and full participation of women on an equal basis with men in national development, Nigeria features amongst the list of nations whose fortunes are likely to change for the better with gender equality.

As a member of the United Nations, Nigeria has signed and ratified various relevant international instruments, treaties and conventions that require member nations to establish mechanisms to eliminate gender discrimination and to ensure equality and human dignity to all men and women. The world's most populous black nation subscribed to and pledged to actualize the Gender Equality Sustainable Development Goal No. 5.

Yet the question remains: What efforts have the Nigerian government and other stakeholders made so far to meet the Gender Equality goals of the sustainable development project? Is the government of Nigeria truly committed to addressing the gender imbalance in society in line with SDG5? A look at its gender policy and efforts so far will help evaluate progress so far.

Nigeria's Gender Policy

In line with various international commitments, as far back as 2006the Nigerian government had developed a National Gender Policy that focuses on gender mainstreaming, women empowerment and eliminating discriminatory practices that are harmful to women. The National Gender Policy, which replaced the National Policy on Women (NPW) was designed to equip stakeholders with strategic skills for engineering the levels of social change required for the empowerment of all citizens to participate actively in the country's socio-economic and political development. It was one of the cardinal objectives of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which preceded the SDGs. MDG3, to which Nigeria subscribed, was geared towards achieving gender equality and women's empowerment.

Under Nigeria's Gender Policy document, the Federal Government is committed to building a nation devoid of gender discrimination, guaranteeing equal access to political, social and economic wealth creation opportunities for women and men; and developing a culture that places a premium on the protection of all, including children.

To achieve this ambitious goal, the Federal Government pledged to take drastic policy measures that would promote the full participation of women in both the public and private sectors as agents of development. The Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development was designated as the vehicle for engineering the speedy and healthy involvement of Nigerian women in the mainstream of the national development processes.

The government also proposed to develop a National Gender Strategic Framework (NGSF) which would outline explicit implementation, monitoring and evaluation guidelines for achieving measurable targets and enhancing accountability to gender equality and women's empowerment.

The then Minister for Women's Affairs and Social Development, Mrs Inna Maryam Ciroma, said that the Ministry intended to use global standards as instruments to formulate and assess progress and achievements on the country's gender efforts.

The Core strategies for achieving the objectives of the National Gender Policy include:

• Policy, partnership and programme reforms through mainstreaming of gender concerns at all levels;

• Gender education and capacity building to enhance necessary technical expertise and positive gender culture;

• Legislative reforms to guarantee gender justice and respect for human rights; and

• Economic reforms for enhanced productivity and sustainable development, especially that which addresses the needs of women and children, and other vulnerable groups.

Ten years after

Ten years down the line, how has Nigeria's gender policy fared? To what extent has the government demonstrated its commitment towards balancing the gender equation in Nigeria? Has Nigeria made giant strides or retrogressed in its gender equality programme?

Sadly, despite spirited efforts of the Olusegun Obasanjo administration and its successors to address the problems of Nigeria's huge gender imbalance, significant gender gaps in education, economic empowerment and political participation remain. As many anticipated, the major challenge faced by the country's gender policy objectives remain moving from the policy prescriptions to the actualisation of the policy goals and targets.

While progress towards parity in primary school education has been recorded over the last decade, there remains a significant wage and labour force participation gender gap. Discriminatory laws and practices, violence against women and gender stereotypes continue to stall progress towards gender equality in the country. Nigeria still records a particularly high maternal mortality rate each year, while access to quality health care for women is limited, especially in rural areas.

In his handover note to President Muhammadu Buhari on the 29th of May, 2015, the then outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan stated that his administration made giant strides in its gender mainstreaming efforts:

"We have promoted gender-mainstreaming with commensurate priority and opportunities for our womenfolk, beginning with ensuring that not less than 30 percent of key federal appointments go to women. Other initiatives that we have taken include: the National Gender Policy, Establishment of Gender Units in Federal MDAs, Women Empowerment Training Programmes, Micro-Credit for Women, Social Safety Net Programmes and the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Scheme."

aisha buhariBut beyond what some critics dismissed as "cosmetic gender political pandering", for the most part the Jonathan government failed to tackle deep-rooted gender issues that have marginalised women's socio-economic and political emancipation for decades. Nonetheless, the Jonathan administration appears to have achieved more success in its gender mainstreaming efforts than its successor.

While many would to criticize the Yar'Adua/Jonathan administrations for failing to take concrete steps to address structural issues that undermine gender equality in Nigeria, none would doubt the prominent role women played in the political arena of the time. Things have changed for the worse since then.

The 2015 general election witnessed a significant reduction in the number of women holding political office or appointed to key government posts in the country. Many gender activists were disappointed that in the 2015 National Assembly election only eight women (7.3 percent) were elected to the 109-member Senate, while 14 (4 percent) managed to secure seats in the 360-member House of Representatives. In all, the proportion of women elected to the National Assembly fell to 5.6 percent in 2016 from above 7 percent in the previous session. The governorship elections produced only four women – as deputy governors – in the 2015 election. To make matters worse, when President Muhammadu Buhari swore in 36 ministers on November 11, 2015, only five women made it into his cabinet. Besides the noticeable absence of women in the new political dispensation, the Buhari administration has remained largely indifferent to issues relating to gender equality and women empowerment.

Major gender equality impediments

Despite its pledges and policy commitment towards addressing gender imbalance in the society, there are no noticeable changes in the gender equation in Nigeria thus far. Investigations show that the country is still bedevilled by socio-economic, political and cultural barriers that impede gender balance. There is no evidence that entrenched societal norms, rules and values that stack the odds against women and in favour of men have even been much, let alone eliminated.

Patriarchy system

In general, Nigeria remains a patriarchal society where men dominate all spheres of national affairs as well as women's lives. As in other male-dominated societies, the social relations and activities of Nigerian women and men are governed by a patriarchal system of socialization and by cultural practices which favour the interests of men above those of women.

Despite a great number of women who have distinguished themselves in their various professional and business careers during the last decade, a high percentage of women's employment is still restricted to low income activities, concentrated within the lower levels of the unregulated and the informal sector. By comparison, men employed in the informal sector are located in the upper levels and are predominantly engaged in higher income activities.

In other words, Nigerian women still find themselves playing second fiddle, with a subordinate role at all levels, despite the government's repeated pledges to take steps to breaking down gender walls. Even the solemn commitment by Federal Government to take critical steps for mainstreaming gender into governance in order to liberate Nigeria's human capital resource for active participation in national development – especially with respect to politics and public life –appears to have suffered a major setback under the Buhari administration.

Constitutional rights

Despite a general commitment to the principle of non-discrimination enshrined in Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, governments at all levels have largely been unable or unwilling to fulfil the responsibility of giving male and female citizens equal opportunities in all aspects of national life.

Several negative aspects of gender relations, such as gender-based division of labour, disparities between male and female access to power and resources, and gender biases in rights and entitlements, remain pervasive in Nigeria.

For instance, while Section 43 of the 1999 Constitution permits both male and female Nigerians to own and acquire movable and immovable property, a large number of women in Nigeria are barred from owning land by customary laws of inheritance. At present, there is little indication of any genuine political will of efforts to address the constitutional quagmire affecting gender issues.

Gender roles

Gender-based norms which ascribe to women the responsibility of carrying out tasks related to household management or chores such as cooking, cleaning, caring for children and the elderly, which do not diminish when women engage in paid employment, has remained unchanged in Nigeria. No new law or policy has been designed by government to address this dual burden which prevents women from pursuing their careers and reach management and decision making positions at the same pace and rate as their male colleagues.

Legal and Human Rights

As in most nations, Nigeria possesses a body of laws which regulate and govern various aspects of both public and private life. For instance, marriage is regulated by and can be contracted under statute, customary law and Islamic (Sharia) law.

However, the manner in which such laws are interpreted and applied is often inconsistent and frequently varies based on subjective considerations, particularly in cases where women seek redress for violations committed by their spouses or when intestate inheritance issues arise. This is further complicated by unwritten family customs and traditions which discriminate against women, especially in cases related to divorce, child custody and the inheritance of properties, although Islamic laws are sometimes more accommodating of women's concerns in cases pertaining to family/marital break-up.

Ensuring that laws and acts formulated to protect the rights and interests of women are enforced remains a major challenge for women's rights advocates and gender and development practitioners.

Human rights violations are prevalent in Nigeria with women's rights being violated much more often than those of men, in both the public and private spheres. To date, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), established in 1995, has not adequately fostered the capacity of key public institutions, officials and leaders to generate popular understanding and promote fundamental human rights and freedoms. The most pervasive and severe violations of women's rights are often those associated with the unwritten traditions and practices of Nigeria's numerous and diverse ethnic groups. The most common of these which adversely affect women concern widowhood rites, inheritance rights, the land tenure system, female genital mutilation/female genital circumcision (FGM/FGC) and early marriage. These practices have a devastating impact on the health and well-being of Nigerian women and girls and undermine their progress and development.

Women's participation in agriculture

Women are responsible for carrying out 70 percent of agricultural labour, 50 percent of animal husbandry-related activities and 60 percent of food processing activities. Despite the integral role that women play in the agricultural sector, their contributions are hardly valued or recognized, nor are they reflected in the National Accounting Systems or given prime consideration in agricultural policy processes. Women have access to less than 20 per cent of available agricultural resources, which is a serious impediment to their maximising agricultural production.

Gender-based violence

Gender-based violence has come to the fore as a major issue in recent times, and reflects the extent to which women's physical safety is threatened, making it difficult or impossible for some women to speak out on the issues that concern and affect their lives. Violence against women is pervasive and widespread, particularly domestic violence, wife-beating and rape, with the latter also increasing the vulnerability of women to sexually transmitted diseases in general, and HIV/AIDS in particular. In Nigeria, harmful traditional practices designed to control women's sexuality have caused great suffering. Notable among these is the practice of female genital mutilation, a violation of basic rights which can constitute a lifelong risk to women's health. Another aspect of violence against women is women trafficking.

The background to this behaviour is the belief that women are inferior and are supposed to be treated as second class citizens in society. But if Nigeria is to tap the potential of women for development, gender sensitive policies that entrench equity between men and women is key.

Equal relationships between men and women in matters of sexual relations and reproduction, including full respect for the physical integrity of the human body, requires mutual respect and willingness to accept responsibility for the consequences of sexual behaviour, while sensitivity and equity in gender relations enhances and promotes respectful and harmonious partnerships between men and women

While several states have updated their criminal laws to punish domestic violence and to treat violence against women as seriously as violence against men, others continue to apply the old Penal Code and Criminal Code, the provisions of which are clearly inadequate from a gender equality perspective. Under these out-dated laws, domestic violence is classified under common assault, which downplays the seriousness of this crime. According to section 55 of the Penal Code which applies to some states created out of the defunct Northern Region, wife beating is permitted as long as it does not amount to grievous hurt which is defined by section 241 to include emasculation, permanent loss of sight, ability to hear or speak facial disfigurement, deprivation of any member or joint, bone fracture or tooth dislocation.

Justice and law enforcement

Neither the administration of justice nor law enforcement are gender-friendly, and frequently neglect to adhere to the principle of upholding fundamental rights and good governance. The operational procedures and protocols of most law enforcement agencies are biased against women. The abikemost striking example is the still un-amended 1948 Police Act. Many of its provisions violate not only the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the African Protocol on People's Rights and the Rights of Women (APPRRW), but the anti-discrimination provisions enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution itself. For instance, although women have the right to post bail for police detainees, in practice women are frequently prevented from doing so on the excuse that the surety could be liable to sanctions if the bailed person absconds (although the police frequently arrest even nursing mothers to force husbands to surrender to custody).

Livelihoods

Various data indicate that a sharp contrast between the income-generating and livelihood opportunities of women and men persists across multiple sectors in Nigeria. For instance, the participation of women in the industrial sector is 11 percent compared with 30 percent for men. Women represent 87 percent of those employed in the service sector which involves predominantly informal and unregulated forms of employment. Their participation in income-generating activities that involve heavy manual labour, such as mining and quarrying, is virtually non-existent, mostly because of gender-related perceptions about the social construction of labour and production (National Bureau of Statistics, 2004). In the Federal Civil Service, which is the largest single-entity employer in Nigeria, 76 percent of civil servants are men while 24 percent are women, but women hold less than 14 percent of total management level positions in the service. In the medical field, which generally involves highly skilled and relatively well-remunerated work, women represent only 17.5 percent of those employed while men make up 82.5 percent. (CIDA Nig. GSAA 2006).

Economy

Overall, gender inequalities within society and across all sectors reflect the wide disparities between women and men. This disparity creates uneven development and contributes to the feminization of poverty. Among the 70 percent of the population estimated to be living below poverty line, it is projected that over 65 percent are women. Men also have greater access to high-paying, secure employment. These disparities have a significant impact on the capacity of women and men to contribute to the economic growth of the country.

Health and HIV/AIDS

The under-representation of women in decision-making bodies and policy formulation processes also has a significant impact on the health sector's responsiveness to gender equality considerations. With the exception of reproductive health policies, the vast majority of sectoral policies and service delivery systems frequently fail to adopt gender-sensitive approaches or address gender inequalities. Ensuring access to health facilities and affordable health services remains a major challenge for the country in general, and women in particular, while doctor/patient ratios show that the health care system lacks the necessary human resources to respond to the health care needs of Nigerians.

As a direct consequence, maternal and child mortality and morbidity rates remain alarmingly high. This has serious implications for the overall health and well-being of Nigerian women and for population growth rates. The prevalence levels of communicable diseases are also high, largely as a result of poor sanitation, low awareness, and lack of access to potable water. The higher prevalence of HIV/AIDS among women is partly due to the fact that women are biologically more susceptible to contracting HIV than men. Although the government has acknowledged the gender dimensions of HIV/AIDS and has developed and implemented gender-sensitive HIV/AIDS programmes, interventions, policies, and strategies (thus gender equality considerations are a central aspect of Nigeria's HIV/AIDS National Strategic Framework), significant challenges remain with respect to addressing practices that perpetuate gender inequalities, such as early marriage, transactional sex, lack of access to health information and services and women's role in shouldering the burden of care for persons living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.

Child marriage

Child marriage remains a threat to the lives of children, especially girls, despite national laws prohibiting it in many countries. Child marriage correlates with lower levels of schooling, lower rates of contraceptive use, and higher fertility. Girls who marry early have little decision-making power within households, they have less control over productive assets, and the participate less in the external labour force.

Latest developments in gender equality fight

While women in Nigeria have long suffered discrimination at every level, with limited access to education, excluded from ownership of land and property, cheated or denied their inheritance rights, human resources development and political rights, recent attention in the country has focused on domestic violence, in respect of which women are more likely to suffer at the hands of their intimate partners than men partly because the culture of suffering in silence is breaking down.

In 2016, Senator Abiodun Olujimi (Ekiti South) presented the "Gender Parity and Prohibition of Violence against Women" Bill. She told the Senate that its purpose was to give women equal rights in marriage, education and employment, and explained that if the Bill was enacted, a widow in Nigeria would automatically become the custodian of her children in the event of the death of her husband, and would also inherit his property.

At first, the Bill was rejected when the Senate accepted the arguments of some lawmakers that the Nigerian constitution already established the rights of all persons, including women, that the Bill was "anti-religion" and that it went against African culture and tradition. However, after this rejection was greeted with outrage and derision, the Bill was reworked to take account of some of the concerns raised. It has since passed its second reading and has been referred to the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters.

The initial fate of the Bill highlighted that although gender equality has been declared as "not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world" some men in positions of leadership and power in Nigeria still perceive women as inferior to men.

It is therefore not surprising that in the Global Gender Gap Report (GGGR) compiled by the World Economic Forum (WEF) to track the progress of countries on gender equality, out of 144 countries monitored, Nigeria ranked 118. The report stated that the gap between women and men in four key areas in Nigeria, namely health, education, economy and politics, is still relatively wide.

Nigerian women and gender equality

United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 on Gender Equality aims to empower women and girls to reach their full potential. It requires the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence – including harmful practices – against them and seeks to ensure that they have every opportunity for sexual and reproductive health and rights, that they receive due recognition for their unpaid work, have full access to productive resources, and enjoy equal participation with men in political, economic and public life.

Although there has been progress towards gender equality and women's empowerment in some developed countries, relatively little improvement has been recorded in Nigeria.

Enrolment in school

Nonetheless, the NBS 2015 Statistical Report of Men and Women in Nigeria showed a slight improvement in girls' access to education, as female enrolment in primary schools increased from 45.7 percent in 2010 to 48.6 percent in 2015. The percentage of females enrolled in secondary schools increased from 45.3 percent in 2010 to 45.7 percent in 2015 and the completion rate for girls in primary and secondary schools increased from 46.7 percent and 47.1 percent in 2010 to 48.3 percent and 47.9 percent respectively in 2015. (See table)

Yakubu Dogara, the Speaker of the House of Representatives has advised that Nigeria must invest heavily in girl-child education to bridge the gap in school enrolment statistics between boys and girls, and to end the disparity in levels of literacy. He maintained that gender should not restrict the dreams and aspirations of millions of "our daughters, so we all must be bold for change and support the women around us to achieve their goals and maximise their potential and talents".

Forms of violence

Violence against women and girls violates their human rights and hinders development.

Physical violence: Data compiled by NBS between 2008 to 2013, shows that women in the 25-29 years age group experienced the highest levels of physical violence, 23.8 percent in 2008, decreasing to 21.1 percent in 2013.At 22.6 percent, high levels were also recorded among the 30-39 years age in 2008. These two age groups (25-29 and 30-39) had the same levels of physical violence, 23.8 percent, in both 2008 and 2013. At 2.5 percent, sexual violence was highest for the 20-24 years age group in 2008, decreasing to 2.1 percent in 2013. (See table)

Domestic violence: Sustained agitation by non-governmental organisations has recently prompted greater media reporting of domestic violence against women, leading to calls for urgent attention to address the trend. The CLEEN Foundation recently renewed its call on lawmakers and security agencies to curb the rate at which women and girls suffer domestic and sexual violence.

Female genital mutilation: Concerning the harmful practice of female genital mutilation (FGM/cutting), which is another human rights violation and form of violence against girls and women, statistics from the Nigeria Demographic and Health Surveys for 2008 and 2013 indicate that of the total number of women who have undergone FGM, most experienced it when they were less than five years old, compared to those who were circumcised when they were older than five.

Child marriage: Report shows that an average of 11.6 percent of adolescent girls aged 15-19 are married in Nigeria. Twenty-three percent of this age group are already mothers or pregnant with their first child, while 47.6 percent of these girls have no primary education.

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There are wide variations in the incidence of child marriage across the country. The Minister of Women Affairs and Development, Senator Aisha Alhassan, has expressed concern at the high prevalence of child marriage in the North-east and North-west geo-political zones of Nigeria. Indeed, Senator Alhassan asserted that Northern Nigeria has one of the highest rates of early marriage in the world with an estimated 65 percent of children married off before the age of 18 years. It should be noted that the same areas where there are high levels of child marriage also suffer from high rates of poverty, high rates of maternal mortality, and low levels of literacy.

Human trafficking: Human trafficking disproportionately affects women and girls, since 70 percent of all victims detected worldwide are female. From 2010 to 2015, females trafficked reached the highest proportion (79.8 percent) of trafficked persons in 2012, but reduced to 58.9 percent in 2015. Trafficking in persons occurred most in the 26-35 years age bracket where females constituted over 90.0 percent of the total trafficked, followed by the 16-25 years age group of which females accounted for 88.7 percent of the total number of persons trafficked in 2012. The proportion of females in the 0-5 years age group, increased from 48.5 percent of the total number trafficked in 2010, to 53.8 percent in 2012, and dropped to 42.4 percent in 2015. (See table)

The circumstances under which Nigerian girls find themselves in the hands of traffickers, leaves cause for concern, although the Nigerian authorities are now becoming more proactive about preventing the scourge. For example, on the 28th of February 2017, 41 teenage girls were evacuated from Mali to Nigeria. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on the Diaspora, revealed that their evacuation had been carried out by the joint efforts of the Chief of Defence Staff, the Nigerian Air Force, the National Agency for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) and other relevant government agencies.

Dabiri-Erewa revealed that before the evacuation, NAPTIP officials had travelled to Mali to arrange documentation and other logistics to ease the return of the 41 girls, who she said were victims of trafficking.

Participation in government

Globally, the participation of women in the legislature rose to 23 percent in 2016. This represented a six percent increase over the previous decade. The slow progress in this area makes the increase in the number of women in leadership positions in the legislature all the more remarkable.

However, in Nigeria, women are under-represented among high-ranking government administrators with decision making powers.

Nigeria's first female Professor of History, Bolanle Awe decried this trend at a programme to commemorate the International Women's Day:

"The majority of women in political parties do not have power, as majority of them are praise singers, fund raisers, cheer leaders, party supporters, mobilizers. They are dressed in the latest aso-ebi (uniforms) to raise songs and dances. And when the time comes for eating, they will be at the forefront."

Professor Awe accused Nigeria's government of not showing the required commitment to drive gender equality in the executive and legislative arms, noting that from 1999 to 2007, there were only three female Senators, were three compared to 106 male Senators. She called for strong collaborative efforts amongst women to boost participation in politics, economic activities and policy-making.

Economic activity: In Nigeria, where women already constitute a significant part of the informal sector, it is expected that gender equality would produce greater gains for the country's economy. While Nigeria was found to have a relatively high level of gender equality in work – comparable to those found in Ethiopia and Thailand – gender parity in other areas such as access to essential services, enablers of economic opportunity and legal protections for women, was far lower.

UN's partnership with Sweden and Canada to stop child brides in Nigeria

With 23 million girls and women who were married in their childhood, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) refers to Nigeria as "the home of child marriages in Africa." A UNICEF report titled "A Profile of Child Marriage in Africa" stated that:

"Girls in rural areas are twice as likely to become child brides as girls from urban areas. Similarly, girls from the poorest households are twice likely to marry before age 18 as girls from richest households".

The UNICEF report noted that if child marriage continues at the current rate (out of 124 million children forced into early marriage in Africa, Nigeria has over 40 million), the African continent would have as many as 310 million child brides by 2050.

Research conducted by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) shows that the average marriage age for girls in rural Nigeria is 17 years.

To address this problem, in late 2016, the United Nations together with other development partners led by the governments of Canada and Sweden joined the Nigerian government to launch a strategy document seeking to end child marriage in Nigeria by 2030.

The goal of the new policy, launched in Abuja by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, is that a girl must reach 18 years before she can be married, with measures to reduce child marriage by 40 percent by 2020.

thomleyChristopher Thornley, the Canadian High Commissioner to Nigeria said:

"In Nigeria, there are more child brides than any other country. There is massive number of young girls being married in this country as children. When you think of the millions of girls who are affected, all those individual stories and the stories behind the numbers, there is a challenge that appears to be overwhelming."

However, he noted, many people around the world are coming together in an unprecedented way to put a stop to child marriage.

Among the root causes of the practice of early and forced child marriage are the lack of full access to education for girls, and lack of commitment to their retention in education; the quality of access to sexuality education and life skills; household poverty; gender stereotypes; insecurity and abusive culture and traditions.

UNFPA said that the strategic plan to end child marriage in Nigeria would ensure the necessary governance, the right policy, a conducive environment and a sensitized judiciary for the enforcement of measures if the country is to make progress in the achievement of the SDGs.

Although the Nigerian Constitution did not establish any minimum age for marriage, the Child Rights Act (CRA) of 2003 sets the minimum age for marriage at 18 years. Out of 36 State Houses of Assembly, 24 have adopted the Act as law. However, as at 2016, Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Enugu, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara were yet to adopt CRA, meaning that in some of these states, the minimum age of marriage can be as low as 12.

Implementation of the CRA, which forbids child marriage and at the same time protects the rights of the child and protects the child from violence and abuse is an important tool in Nigeria's efforts to meet SDG-5.

IWD: Nigerian women charged to embrace the changing world

International Women's Day (IWD) is celebrated on the 8th of March each year to commemorate the struggle for women's rights. The theme of IWD in 2017 was: "Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50:50 by 2030" indicates that realizing women's economic empowerment requires transformative change so that prosperity is equitably shared and no one is left behind.

In a statement released to mark the IWD, the wife of the Nigerian President, Aisha Buhari, appealed to all stakeholders to work to ensure the achievement of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls, as this would aid attainment of the SDGs.

Mrs Buhari also used the opportunity to reaffirm her commitment to the cause of women through her "Future Assured" initiative from which thousands of women and children have benefitted.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo disclosed that the Buhari administration remains committed to ensuring the protection of all women from all forms of gender-based violence in the country. He said Nigerian women will live to fulfil their aspirations in a peaceful and prosperous country.

The Director-General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, Sani Aliyu, said that gender inequality issues are key drivers of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in several ways as women currently constitute 59 percent of HIV positive individuals in Nigeria. He encouraged women to be bold on IWD and beyond, by taking bold steps to speed up gender parity and truly drive the greatest change for women.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) partnered with the Nigerian Ministry of Women Affairs and several development partners (UN-Women, United Nations Development Programme, Oxfam, the European Union, Action Aid, and others) to celebrate IWD with a knowledge-sharing event.

Several presentations were made by experts to set the tone for dialogue in search of proactive, innovative ways of bridging gender gaps in the workplace by creating an enabling environment for women to thrive. The status of the Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill, creating safe cities, inclusive representation in parliament, expanding livelihood programmes and rapid response to humanitarian crises were topics at the forefront of the day's discussions.

There is no doubt that the ambitious scope of SDG5 represents a new window of opportunity for Nigeria to address gender equality and women's economic empowerment, and to do away with structural constraints such as entrenched social norms and inequality.

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